COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS: Since the Los Angeles Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship, their second Stanley Cup win in three seasons, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi has received a great deal of praise for his work to build the Kings into a championship team and a perennial Stanley Cup contender. But he claims that he is not responsible for that success. Rather, it’s the players, head coach, and ownership who should get all the credit.
In this multi-part series, Frozen Royalty will take a close look at Lombardi’s role in the Kings’ success, how much of his vision has become reality, and how true his statement, “…it ain’t me” really is.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — With the Los Angeles Kings having won two Stanley Cup Championships in the last three seasons, it is easy to forget that it was not so long ago when the franchise was teetering on the edge of becoming totally irrelevant in Southern California.
On April 21, 2006, Kings Vice President, Communications and Broadcasting Mike Altieri opened a press conference at what was then the HealthSouth Training Center (now the Toyota Sports Center) in El Segundo, California by saying that the team was about to “…embark on a new era of Kings hockey in Los Angeles.”
Then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG; owners of the Kings) Tim Leiweke added, “We wanted to try to find somebody who can be the leader in this organization and bring their personality and vision to the forefront and ingrain that in everything that we’re doing here.”
Little did Altieri and Leiweke know that those words would be prophetic. They were talking about Dean Lombardi, who was hired that day to be the team’s new President/General Manager.
Over the eight years since Lombardi was hired, he has been very candid about his plans to build the Kings into a perennial Stanley Cup contender. In this multi-part series, Frozen Royalty will take a close look at Lombardi and his long-term plan to build the Kings into that perennial contender he spoke of years ago and that Kings fans have been waiting for, some for 45 years.
Especially after his team won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship, Lombardi, like just about everyone else in the organization does, has deflected all the praise that has been launched in his direction.
“Hey, I didn’t get my face plastered against the boards here at all,” he said during the on-ice celebration at Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 13, 2014, after the Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship. “I feel like I have, but I didn’t. These guys are the ones who get it done. It ain’t me.”
“The thing is, too, this franchise has one of the best owners in sports,” he added. “You never see him front and center. It’s about team. That’s what he stresses all the time. He sets the tone. You don’t see Mr. [Philip] Anschutz out there, ‘look at me, look at me.’ That sets the tone for the entire organization. That’s where it starts.”
“If you don’t have a guy behind you that, when you have a plan, lets you stick with it—you make a ton of mistakes. I always say that if you go 50/50 in this job, you’re going to do pretty darned well. But he sticks by you through the mistakes. It’s a great reward for him, but that’s where it starts.”
On September 14, 2014, while fans were baking under the hot sun at HockeyFest 14, which just happened to coincide with the September heat wave that we usually get here in the Los Angeles area, I sat in Lombardi’s office at the Toyota Sports Center where he elaborated on his earlier comments.
“You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ve said it time and time again this summer,” he said. “Players win, and if you start thinking that you’re the reason?”
At that point, Lombardi just shook his head.
“I told you…the two greatest lines I’ve ever heard—I said this in a speech the other day,” he recalled. “One, ‘the GM only has to be front and center when the [expletive deleted] hits the fan.’ Cliff Fletcher. Two, ‘Dean, never forget: players win.’ Bill Torrey.”
“Those guys had six Stanley Cups between them,” he added. “Not bad maxims to go by, and they’re so right. If you watch [those] series in San Jose or Anaheim, I am sore walking out of there. If you think you’re the reason?”
To illustrate his point, Lombardi then shared a rather compelling story about the players.
“People have asked me what’s my Stanley Cup moment? Game 4, coming back from New York, walking to the back of the plane and seeing these guys laying on the floor, compressors all over, ice bags and everything else,” he shared. “I remember walking to the front of the plane and I said, ‘it looks like Gettysburg back there!’ [But there was] not one peep out of’em.”
“Four guys had fairly major surgery when this thing was over, and [if] you want to start parading yourself as the reason, you’ve got a fricken’ problem, because I wasn’t laying there with ice bags and everything else,” he added. “That’s what I find amazing, too, That’s four major surgeries—[Jarret] Stoll, [Jonathan] Quick, [Kyle] Clifford—and you wouldn’t have known [they were so severely injured]. I’m supposed to know and I wouldn’t have known, because I see it every day.”
Lombardi also heaped praise on Anschutz, saying that he has supported him all the way and has let him stick to his plan, even though he did not understand it.
“When you have an owner who’s completely—and this is the thing about Anschutz which—I noticed this right away,” said Lombardi. “I don’t know what a lot of owner’s backgrounds are. It seems like a lot of these guys made their money [very] quickly. A lot of these guys made huge money with one product. But his businesses have all been about taking the time—there’s no quick buck in his businesses.”
“It was vision—getting the railroads because he saw the vision that somebody was going to have to lay fiber optic [cable],” added Lombardi. “Being in the oil industry, taking losses, but sticking with it. All of his businesses are based upon that premise. So when I put that plan up there [when he started with the Kings; season ticket holders in particular will remember the Powerpoint presentations with the charts at the breakfasts with the GM]—you saw the short version of it with the fans. Well, when it gets to [Las] Vegas, it’s a lot more detailed. He really didn’t understand, but he understood that this is a plan, and that was the one compliment he gave me three years ago. He said, ‘Dean, I had no idea. All I knew was that you had a plan. Now, I get it.’”
Lombardi also pointed to Anschutz backing up his words with support and the necessary resources.
“Like I said, when I came here, this weight room [at the Toyota Sports Center] was a joke, and two, I want money for development,” said Lombardi. “I don’t really care how much you spend on the payroll right now, and he was kind of shocked about that. I said that this ain’t about the payroll. You’ve got to invest in player development and drafting. That’s where you’re short here. He said, ‘OK,’ and he stuck with it.”
“Whether it’s the plane, or the way he takes care of the wives [and families] during the playoffs, or what do you need to be the best here? Well, let’s get the sunlight in [the still-under-renovation weight room at the Toyota Sports Center], and what I love about him is that the players see it,” added Lombardi. “This guy comes in, he’s a real pro. He’s got an unbelievable presence. The last thing he wants is it to be about him. It starts there.”
Even with that presence, Anschutz is a recluse compared to many other professional sports team owners.
“If we had a guy who was like [other, flamboyant owners across professional sports], it would change the dynamic of this team, no matter what I did,” Lombardi observed. “It would change incredibly, and I’d spend all my time managing up.”
“[Mr. Anschutz is] kind of like Clint Eastwood,” Lombardi added. “That’s who he reminds me of. He’s got a cigar, his cowboy boots, he doesn’t say much. But he’s taking it all in. Then, he’ll ask you a question and he’ll remember what you said three years ago. But I love that when he comes in, I hear he stands in line for his hot dogs, and the players know that. This guy could buy you 100 times over and look at the way he’s conducting himself, so don’t get too full of yourself when you see your owner do that.”
Don’t forget head coach Darryl Sutter.
“One reason Darryl can push them is because he cares about them and the guys know it’s not about him,” said Lombardi. “Does anybody ever get the impression with Darryl that it’s about him? I think a lot of that comes from his contentment with himself. ‘I do this because I love it, but when it’s all over, I’m going to that farm.’ If you’ve ever stood on the hill with him calling those wild horses to his truck, you pretty much get to know that fame and fortune isn’t as good as this.”
“When he talks about that Cup, it’s not about him and his personal life, either,” added Lombardi. “So to say that we had all this ‘Anschutz is great, Dean’s great,’ if we had a coach who didn’t buy into that philosophy, and it was about ‘me, me, me,’ and we know who some of those coaches are in all these sports—’look at me! I did this!’ How many coaches, nowadays, put the word, ‘I’ in there? What the [expletive deleted] are you doing? But that’s the way they honestly feel. If you had that [in our dressing room]? It wouldn’t matter what Anschutz and I think.”
Lombardi certainly makes a strong case for the players, coaches and ownership being primarily responsible for the Kings’ recent success. Indeed, when he said, “it ain’t me,” he’s right. It is not about him. But before taking an in-depth look into what the Kings’ culture has evolved into, Frozen Royalty will review what Lombardi’s plan was in the next installment, and as this series progresses, you will see that although it is no longer about him, Dean Lombardi’s fingerprints are all over everything the franchise has become. Indeed, it was about him, by necessity, and it was for quite awhile.
Dean Lombardi Series, September 2014
- LA Kings: It May Not Be About Dean Lombardi Now, But At One Time, It Was
- A Look Back At Dean Lombardi’s Plan To Build The LA Kings Into A Perennial Stanley Cup Contender
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